Friday, September 7, 2007

To Become a Citizen, Be a Crime Victim

Crime victims may be very reluctant to come forward if they happen to lack citizenship and a valid visa for being in the United States. Coming forward and cooperating with authorities may cause you to be deported. Keeping quite, or even continuing to endure violence (as in domestic violence situations) may be the preferred choice (especially where children may become separated from their parents as a result). Does it make sense to give such crime victims who cooperate with prosecutors a visa to let them stay here lawfully? It certainly seems to be humane and rational, but the federal law that authorized such visas (just now forthcoming according to an article by Anna Gorman in the LA Times) is also a text book example of governing through crime.

In Governing through Crime, chapter 3, I argue that crime victims have become the idealized citizen subjects of our time, literally the model subject through which government imagines the needs of the governed. Here the identity as crime victim literally establishes a citizen (or at least the possibility of gaining citizenship). Moreover, it is only those victimized non-citizens who act out the required role of cooperating with prosecutors who fulfill this idealized picture of the victim (many real victims do not cooperate for complex reasons).

Protection for non-citizens without valid visas against sudden and arbitrary removal from the United States (and mandatory detention until removal) is badly needed. If such individuals are removed it should be after individual assessment of their case, including the protection of their human rights both in their native country and in the impact their removal will have on people here, e.g., their US born children. Carving out a special status for crime victims only reveals our ongoing obsession with crime and our demand that crime victims assume a certain kind of identity, one linked to the state's power to punish.

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